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Elemental Inspiration: Artists of the west

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With scenery that inspires, a culture that innately fosters the artistic and an array of groundbreaking galleries that dot the landscape, the artists who have been captivated by the Wild Atlantic Way’s rugged charm are as diverse as they are renowned.

Two of Ireland’s best-known painters are forever entwined with images of Ireland’s west – Paul Henry and Jack B Yeats. Since the early 1900s, their paintings have greatly influenced perceptions of life along this coast, both at home and overseas.

Today, as sure as the waves lap these shores, this landscape remains a continual influence on artists. So much so that many of the country’s foremost creators have made their homes here, at their inspiration’s very source. Not only are these artists inspired by the landscape, but they use it in very tactile ways. Its stories and history, its raw materials and living creatures all feature, breaking away from the conventions of traditional art.

  • Charles Tyrrell, A26.14, 2014, oil on canvas

Charles Tyrrell

At the extreme southwesterly tip of the Beara Peninsula in County Cork lives preeminent painter Charles Tyrrell, who works in a studio overlooking the changeable Atlantic. While his work remains resolutely abstract, the recognisable colours of the West Cork landscape are very much present. Iron greys, petrol blues and chalky pastels are accompanied by the occasional pop of bright colour. Having painted on a variety of material, including canvas and board, his recent work has even seen him using incised aluminium plates as supports. Through his precisely controlled explorations into the qualities of paint, he communicates his connection with the power of nature, something he’s immersed himself in for more than 30 years.

  • Dorothy Cross, Whale, 2011, Cuvier whale skeleton, cord, wood, rusted bucket and marble plinth

Dorothy Cross

A County Cork native, sculptor, photographer and video artist Dorothy Cross now lives and works in rural Connemara. Incredibly interested in people’s relationships with the natural world, Cross often uses things found on the shoreline near her studio to construct formal, finely-balanced sculptural works. Boats, dead birds and the skins and shells of sea animals have all featured prominently, while sharks have become a recurring motif that acts as a powerful symbol relating to themes of history, memory and identity. Her work is a product of place, reclaimed and harvested from nature’s bounty, and it speaks of man’s deep connection to the spaces in which he finds himself.

  • Maria Simonds-Gooding, Vegetation and Dwelling Place

Maria Simonds-Gooding

Enjoying a quiet life on the Dingle Peninsula, overlooking the magnificent Blasket Islands, Maria Simonds-Gooding is fascinated by remote locations. Having travelled extensively through Bhutan, India, Greece, Mali and Egypt, it is places where people have maintained close relationships with the land that draw her artistic attention. Simonds-Gooding’s works in plaster depict the marks that humans have left on the natural landscape and are reminiscent of cave drawings and man’s very earliest paintings. Her simple abstract lines and irregular shapes also depict the boundaries of fields and ancient human settlements. 

  • Melita Denaro, A Pied Wagtail Chick with No Bounce at All..., oil on canvas

Melita Denaro

Dividing her time between Donegal and London, Melita Denaro and her paintings explore her ongoing relationship with the dramatic landscape of the Isle of Doagh near the northernmost tip of County Donegal. Inspired by the peaceful countryside neighbouring her cottage, she paints most of her work in the same field. Here she is sometimes surrounded by cattle or sheep, but usually works alone. Her paintings hover somewhere between figuration and abstraction, with vague figures, houses and telegraph posts occasionally appearing through atmospheric brushstrokes that describe the ever-changing weather. Painting titles read almost like diary entries, recording her feelings as well as the comings and goings of the isle’s inhabitants.

  • Seán Lynch, DeLorean Progress Report IV

Seán Lynch

County Kerry’s Seán Lynch was Ireland’s 2015 representative at the prestigious Venice Biennale. Many of Lynch’s projects relate to specific places along the Wild Atlantic Way. A Preliminary Sketch for the Reappearance of HyBrazil looks at the apparition of the phantom Atlantic island of HyBrazil, which first appeared on sailing charts between 1325 and 1339 but had disappeared by 1853. His penchant for the absurd is uniquely Irish, as his project DeLorean: Progress Report shows – it traces the tools used to make the cars made famous by the Back to the Future films, from a defunct factory in Belfast to the bottom of the sea in Galway Bay, where they reside with a host of lobsters, crabs and other aquatic creatures.

  • Alice Maher, Limb, 2003, lambda print

Alice Maher

Another Irish artist whose work interrogates mythic and folkloric narratives is County Mayo-based Alice Maher. She works across a wide range of disciplines – sculpture, drawing, print, animation, photography, painting, installation and film – and having grown up on a farm in Tipperary, the influence of the Irish countryside is very much evident in her work. Nature often provides both the subject and material, although Maher is also interested in exploring materials that lie outside the traditions of fine art. Berries, thorns, nettles and bees feature in some of her best-known pieces, alongside powerful depictions of women with extraordinarily long hair.

  • Seán McSweeney, Shoreline Ballyconnell

Seán McSweeney

Since moving to the west of Ireland in the 1980s, the Sligo coastline has become central to Seán McSweeney’s work, which is firmly rooted in the tradition of Irish landscape painting that stretches back to the 1800s. He returns frequently to the same subjects and is consistently drawn to the small bog pools and flat shorelines close to his home, painting them in different lights and at different times of the year. He frequently plays with perspective, with bog pools reduced to simple rectangles and the coastline represented by horizontal bands depicting land, sea and sky. Recent work has seen McSweeney focus on the waters and changing moods and movements of the North Atlantic.

Enjoy art on the Wild Atlantic Way

All along the Wild Atlantic Way, you’ll find art spaces with a reputation for showing really interesting work. In Donegal, Artlink at Fort Dunree hosts exhibitions, provides studio space and offers residencies to visiting artists. In Sligo, The Model, one of Ireland’s leading arts centres, regularly shows work by international artists alongside its impressive public collection of Irish art.

Mayo is home to a gaggle of arts centres with interesting visual art programmes as well as the picturesquely positioned Custom House Studios and Gallery on Westport Quay and Ballinglen Arts Foundation in Ballycastle.

A vibrant programme runs at Galway Arts Centre. In County Clare, Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughan exhibits work by students and invited professional artists. 

Further south, Siamsa Tíre in Tralee, County Kerry has hosted shows by some of Ireland’s leading artists, while West Cork Arts Centre in Skibbereen has a great lineup of multi-disciplinary exhibitions. 

To see what’s on during your visit, check out Visual Artists Ireland’s website. To plan your visit, have a look at our Trip Planner.

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